Review: It Was Always You by Various Authors

Note: This ARC was provided by the authors in exchange for an honest review.

I am a proud member of the M/M Daily Grind, a group on Facebook created by seven M/M romance authors for fans and readers of the genre and their respective works. When we found out that they were releasing an anthology and that it would benefit one•n•ten, an LGBTQ youth center located in the US state of Arizona, I counted the days before I could get my greedy M/M romance-obsessed hands on the book. Seven stories by seven authors whose past work I've read and loved AND the proceeds going to a worthy cause? Yes, please! But when Christina Lee, an all-time favorite author of mine in both M/F and M/M romance genres, one of the authors in the M/M Daily Grind Facebook group, AND one of the nicest people on the planet, generously offered up an advanced copy for me to read and review, I was beyond thrilled. I smiled. I laughed. I cried. Above all, I loved this collection.

It Was Always You brings together seven stories about best friends who love and are in love with each other. It starts off as one-sided for some, mutual but unacknowledged by others, but always the love between every single set of best friends exists. With any transition in a relationship, the friendship is tested, risks can either be taken or set aside, and conflict occurs. I love how seven different authors can take one romance trope and each put their own creative spin on it, marking their story in such a way that you know it's theirs. With a lot of anthologies, I end up loving one or two--or three, if I'm lucky--liking most of the others and maybe being okay with whatever's left. It Was Always You is a rarity for someone like me. Why? Well, I fell in love with all seven stories, though yes, I confess that I did have two that stood out as my ultimate favorites. Bottom line? This is the only anthology I've read so far this year that I read all the way through, without skipping one story or moving ahead to start with a particular one.

The anthology starts off with Rough Edges by Cardeno C., an enemies-to-friends-to-lovers story about Brent Haralson and Kyle Potter. Brent is thirty-six and independently wealthy, which allows him to not have to work, and Kyle is a thirty-five-year-old guy who used to work at an investment firm until he's laid off. Whatever spark was between Brent and Kyle dissipates after Kyle learns about Brent's financial circumstances. But when Kyle needs help the most, it's Brent who offers a helping hand, and living in close quarters makes Kyle wonder if his assessment of Brent was wrong all along. Admittedly, Kyle got on my nerves a bit with his treatment of Brent, but I really liked how he came to his realizations and how Brent remained a truly great guy throughout. It gets 4.5 stars.

The second novella is Ella Frank's Unexpected Turn and it's about Connor McNamara and Tyler Kincaid, two twentysomethings who have been best friends since college and are currently roommates and with respective committed relationships--Connor with his girlfriend Miranda Clare and Tyler with his boyfriend Ryan Harrison. Connor has always been straight and Tyler has always been gay, and they've always been open to one another. But then a road trip to the wedding venue for Tyler's twin sister shifts from relaxed to awkward, creating tension in the friendship between the two. Tyler has questions about Connor's curious behavior, and Connor finds his own answers and truths about himself. Will their friendship survive or could it be headed in a new direction? Five stars.

Story number three is Dare to You penned by Riley Hart. Austin Thompson is an LGBT youth counselor who has always preferred committed relationship. His neighbor and a close friend of six years Dare Nichols is a bar owner who would rather hook up, even via app. Between the two, Austin is the far more cautious one, with Dare living up to his name of daring to take chances or risks. When his boyfriends ends things and Dare rejects his advances, Austin decides that maybe it's time he take a few chances of his own. When the opportunity to hook up with a stranger comes along, Austin agrees. Surprisingly, Dare isn't too thrilled at the idea of Austin hooking up, but with Austin wanting more and Dare keeping people at a distance, is there hope for these two friends? Five stars for this.

Leaning Into Love is the fourth novella and was written by Lane Hayes. Classmates in high school belonging to very different crowds, Eric Schuster and Zane Richards, both thirty and gay and bi, respectively, only became closer in college and more so after graduation. Eric's friends with benefits relationship with his business partner ends when Nick Jorgensen becomes engaged to be married to the daughter of an influential businessman. Zane and Eric attend the engagement party that leads to them hooking up. Soon, they move from being best friends to dating, but it's a change in their relationship they keep under wraps. When Zane's sponsorship is put at risk by Nick's failed engagement amidst claims of being in love with Eric, Eric will do anything to save the sponsorship. It gets five stars!

Admittedly, The Sweetest Goodbye by Christina Lee was the one I was waiting for in this anthology. William Montgomery was a supporting character in the author's Roadmap to Your Heart series starter, The Deepest Blue, and I was just one of many who hoped Billie would get his own story. Now twenty-two, Billie has opened Montgomery's Sweets and has one employee, his best friend Dylan, who was a classmate of his in their junior year of high school. Billie has spent the past four years waiting for his first love Leo, clueless to Dylan's non-platonic feelings for him. One hot encounter between them turns awkward when Leo suddenly returns for a visit, but when his beloved service dog Bullseye is rushed to the vet, who does Billie turn to? This favorite receives five-plus stars.

Please Don't Go is a second-chance, friends-to-lovers romance from author Felice Stevens and it's about twenty-nine-year-old Daniel Friedman and thirty-one-year-old Paul Merola. Danny and Paul first met while at summer camp, becoming the best of friends, with Danny nursing a crush on Paul. They promised to keep in touch, but fifteen years have passed without a single word from Paul reaching Danny. Now, fate has the two accountants working together. Paul would love nothing more than to make up for all the time they lost while apart, but Danny's feeling of abandonment could proved to be something Paul will be unable to overcome. Once Paul confesses the truth to Danny--both about his disappearance and feelings--will Danny embrace this second shot at love? 4.5 stars.

N.R. Walker wraps things up with Perfect Catch, an endearing story about Calvin Lynch who finds himself alone on a fishing trip with his best friend Troy after their two other friends decide they can't make it. Both twenty-four, Cal and Troy came out together a decade ago. They've had their own share of relationships, but their closest friends have always felt that they belong together. Now, a trip that will have them fishing and camping together could be Cal's one chance to find out if everyone is right. But is he really prepared to risk rejection from the one person he's loved most for ten years and end a vital relationship in his life? Troy's reception may surprise Cal, but is this a one-time thing or could this be the one thing that both men have been waiting ten years for? A five-plus-star favorite. ♥

Release Date: 04 October 2016

Date Read: 03 October 2016

Learn more about It was Always You's beneficiary, one•n•ten.

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